Waiting

A theme that is part of the Quaker vocabulary, with which I grew up, is the idea of waiting.  I am sure to most people, the idea of waiting for anything seems pretty boring.  Of course, we do have to wait for things in life, but generally we don’t like it.  I wonder if American culture has not been a race to get faster?  There are many examples that suggest this is true.
  
So much of the world I inhabit seems to be on a quest to get faster.  The evolution of the internet is a great example.  I was aware of computers coming to be a factor in our world, but did not personally get involved in computers till the mid-1980s.  Of course, that was before the internet had been invented.  In those days all my mail came through the mail!  I finally made my peace with computers and, of course, now can’t imagine not having one.
  
Then the internet was invented---in the 90s, I think---and at some point my mail started coming through electronically---appropriately labeled, “email.”  Now if I get a real, interesting letter in the mailbox, I celebrate like an old friend pulled off a miracle!  And with the advent of cell phones now, most of us get our “letters” on a phone in our pocket.  Instead of going to the mailbox, we simply pull out the phone and read our emails.  And the email might be from half-way around the world and it is still instanteous.  No one wants to wait one second longer than necessary.
  
And that brings me back to the Quaker theme of waiting.  Quakers happened upon this term because our theology says we cannot program God to operate on our own sense of timing or whim.  We cannot demand that God show up on our command and do exactly what we want to do.  In effect, we are resigned to the fact that God is still God and we are still human.  Of course, an atheist denies God’s existence, so doesn’t worry about interacting with God.  But I still have a sense there is God and so am intent on interacting with my God.
  
I am intrigued with what God might want to say to me and what God might want me and others to do.  If I can’t email God, then I have to wait.  I recognize my timing is not necessarily God’s timing, so I have to wait.  Even if I am in a hurry, that does not means God is in a hurry.  So I have to wait.  And that’s the issue.
  
The theme of waiting came to be prominent for Quakers in their gatherings to worship.  Theoretically, Quakers see worship as a time when the people come together physically in order that they might be gathered into the Presence of God.  It is fair to say the hope is to experience some sense of unity coming out of our diversity.  It does not happen every time Quakers come together.  After all, God is not programmed by a group any more than by an individual.  I do think God promises to show up.  But God will show up in God’s own sense of timing.
  
And so Quakers gather.  It is appropriate that we gather expectantly.  It is appropriate because God does promise to be present.  But God does not promise to be present whenever and however we demand it.  And so we gather.  In effect we ready ourselves and come to be ready to be gathered into the Presence of God.  That is our part---to become ready.
  
The Quaker language I learned is we gather “to wait upon the Lord.”  I know this is a line that occurs frequently in the Journal of George Fox, that seventeenth century early Quaker.  To wait upon the Lord was his way of expressing the “readying process” that made Quakers aware and available to the God who would come.  While the waiting might not seem very exciting, it does not have to be boring.  Let me use an analogy.
  
Perhaps it is not a good analogy, but the place where expectant language is regularly used is with women expecting a child.  Typically, we say “she is expecting.”  In effect, she is waiting.  It is not boring.  It is not a question of whether, only when.  Analogously, this is how it is with God.  Ironically, waiting is the active part we humans can do.  Waiting is indeed active waiting.  That’s the trick, if there is a trick.  Most Americans probably seen waiting as both boring and passive.  There seems nothing to do when one is waiting.  But that is not true with active waiting.
  
The more I work with various layers of spirituality, I wonder if active waiting on the Lord is not an exercise in awareness and attention?  I suspect it is.  I am also convinced it is a form of spiritual discipline.  This is a good way contemporarily to talk about the process of coming to meet and be present with God.  That is still the basic question.
  
I assume that most people who believe in God and want to interact somehow with the Divine One do not think God is some kind of “cosmic bell hop,” as one friend put it.  We do think there is always a timing issue with God.  Theologically, God may always be present, but it takes a certain amount of awareness and attention on our part to know it.  And God may be sitting around always waiting for us to show up, but generally it takes some discipline on our part to learn to show up.
  
So in that little phrase, “waiting upon the Lord,” Quakers nicely have captured a succinct way to talk about coming to be in the Presence---to meet and mingle with God.

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